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I’m not a Bible reader. Never have been. I suppose whenever I’ve looked for guidance in life, I’ve always turned to much better storytellers. People like Larry McMurtry, who left us on March 25th. And I guess if I had one book that I turned to for direction it would be Lonesome Dove, McMurtry’s all-time classic western novel of two ex-Texas Rangers and their perilous cattle drive to Montana. After all, commandments like “Yesterday’s gone, we can’t get it back,” and “You know how it works, Jake. You ride with the outlaw, you die with the outlaw,” are certainly words that lay a strong foundation for good, moral living. It’s a western, yes, but it’s really just a slightly longer and much better crafted parable than you find in any religious text.

Coincidentally, two weeks before McMurtry’s passing, I had just finished Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage, as good today as it was when it was written more than 100 years ago. Reading it made me wonder if McMurtry had been a fan of Grey’s, and my conclusion (though this is unsupported) was that he had to have been. How else can we explain that same level of authenticity in dialogue and description. When I read Riders’ Jane Withersteen asking the gunman, “…Lassiter, do you think Mormon women wicked? Has your hand been against them, too?” and Lassiter’s response, “No. I believe Mormon women are the best and noblest, the most long-sufferin’, and the blindest, unhappiest women on earth,” I immediately thought this is a McMurtry line, an Augustus McCrae-ism.

Grey lived closer to the time he depicted in so many of his western novels, so it’s easier to envision conversations he may have had with people whose colorful diction immediately and with greater ease got transferred to pen and paper, but McMurtry had no such advantage (save growing up in a small Texas town 😊). His richly textured prose, then, which warms and teaches at the same time, is even more wondrous: “You see, life in San Francisco is still just life. If you want any one thing too badly, it’s likely to turn out to be a disappointment. The only healthy way to live life is to learn to like all the little everyday things – like a sip of good whiskey in the evening, a soft bed, a glass of buttermilk, or a feisty gentleman like myself.”

I’ll take Lonesome Dove any day, thank you. Maybe with a glass of buttermilk.

RIP, Larry.